Rat Care Articles

Girls will be Girls

Lisa Irvine

As a ratty breeder who has been doing this for longer than I choose to remember I still hope that every litter born will have a larger percentage of does born than bucks and in fact still curse the litter that contains only bucks. This is in fact a very rare occurrence. It would not do the species much good if this did indeed happen and in fact the species does need more girls than boys to enable its success and hence I have looked back over the years and found that there does tend to be a 60/40 split in litters with does taking the greater percentage.

The reason I always wish for more does than bucks is because indeed does are more popular as pets than boys. We all love a squishy buck, but by far the requests for baby girl rats far exceed the requests for baby boy rats. In general also female rats (particularly in the varieties I tend to specialise in) show better than males too.

So why are female rats more popular as pets than males? I did wonder if I subconsciously put people off buying buck rats as I fully admit I much prefer keeping does myself, but I'm not sure that this is so, especially since gaining a website that shows pictures of bucks and does on it and now most of my kitten enquiries come through this rather than word of mouth or at shows like it used to. I still find that most people want does.

Yes, female rats are much much less likely to fall out with each other to the extent that they will injure each other or cause distress or worry to the other rat/s and owners (or more importantly expensive veterinary treatment), but surely this is the only real advantage over owning a pair of bucks?

Or is it personality? Each female rat that worms her way into your heart will be different. I have always said that the saying should be restructured to say, 'Curiosity killed the rat' as I know of several that have met untimely ends due to their adventuring! All have been does....off exploring.

Female rats seem to enjoy using their brain far more than bucks who reach a certain age and then generally attain couch potato status for the rest of their days, whereas does will be complete entertaining nuisances until they reach wobbly old age and in fact their determination to carry on exploring every aspect of life I'm sure keeps them alive longer than their bodies can manage sometimes. If you share your life with one or more does you will probably live in a home that has holes in the curtains, missing pen lids, soil dug out of plant pots, protective covers over the cables and chewed paperbacks.

Does also, like bucks, live a life dominated by hierarchy and the need to reproduce. A group of does will have just as complex a social structure as bucks and they will be ruled by an Alpha of the cage. Indeed mixing groups of adult females can often be as stressful for all parties as introducing older bucks to each other, although you are more likely to have success with does. Although not common, hyper-dominant does do exist and can cause absolute mayhem within a group and may have to live separately. I have also had many does over the years that have had major fallings out with other certain individuals and simply hated them for the rest of their lives but have lived happily with others.

From the start your doe will have endless energy, a limitless need to explore, charge about, run and play. If you let your doe free range around the house at any time you will find that she often steals small items and either takes them back to her cage or hides them in a secret stash somewhere. My does seem magpie-esque in as such that they are attracted to bright objects and things of value. When I once located one doe's stash in the back of a drawer, her lovely nest made out of 2 missing odd gloves and a carrier bag contained an earring, 3 pen tops, chewing gum wrappers, 2 5p coins and a necklace. I have no idea why they do this. I am guessing that they have a natural instinct to hoard, in this way they will hoard food and bedding materials for lean times, but why they seem particularly attracted to my jewellery I have no idea. Many rats I have noticed will often try to take jewellery that is being worn, especially rings, rings are usually 'tried out' by ratty teeth...have you noticed this with yours?

A doe will usually have several 'nests' also. In the wild she will forage for food in a wide-ranging area and needs several bolt holes to hide up in if she ever is in danger or waiting for bad weather to pass, here she will stash food items and make a bed. Colonial does will share these nests with other members of her group. Outsiders are not tolerated and will be attacked if found in her territory. These 'everyday nests' must not be confused with the kind of 'nests' that does will make to have babies. These are far more elaborate and rarely contain food.

A doe will have a heat or season every 4 or 5 days, depending on the doe. But most does have a 5-day cycle, although I have known some to come into season most irregularly. A recent visitor doe on holiday came into season on the first day, then the third, then the fifth, then the 12th, then again the 13th. I can only guess it was the Halcyon bucks that caused this reaction.

Groups of does will react in several ways to this, often one does Oestrus will trigger another and indeed I find that I can go into my shed on an evening to find most of the female rats in my shed all in heat together. Poor bucks!!! Another common reaction is that the other does in the group will mock mate the doe in heat. This not only is a hormonal reaction but also is an important act within the social structure. I often find that it is easier to integrate two groups of does when several of them or the Alpha doe is in heat. Mock mating can be a bonding exercise and often two does that squabbled the day before can be introduced smoothly when one doe or the other are completely pre-occupied by being in season.

Of course the main concern when your doe is in heat is that your doe does not accidentally get pregnant. However you are up against it. Even if there are no bucks living in your house, when your doe is in heat she will be determined to go off looking for a bloke. I have had does in heat open the most tightly clipped cage doors, push large house bricks off lids, chew holes in plastic cages overnight to both get out of her cage and into one that contains bucks just to pro-create. They are extremely determined little madams. They are also difficult to handle and rather stroppy on this one day out of five and will often become squeaky wriggly monsters the day they are in heat and revert back so kissy sweet little does the following day. (All us women will know what that's like).

The main worry that owners of does have is that they will develop mammary tumours. I have not memorised any documented research giving the probability rate of tumour development. But I do know that it is highly likely that your doe will develop some lump or another and this likelihood is increased if she is not bred from.

There are several ways that you can try and avoid owning a doe that will develop mammary tumours, although none of these are guaranteed. Firstly try not to gain a rat from a pet shop. It is a high probability that this kitten will have been bred to demand with little thought of its health or the health of its parents or indeed any of its lineage. This piece of advice also adheres to rescue rats, although I actively encourage the rehoming of rescues I must stress that anyone who does give a rescue rat a home must do this with the certain knowledge that this rat is far more likely to develop health and behavioural problems in later life and hence will stretch the finances of any owner a little further than most ratties and is not to be entered into without great consideration.

So with this thought in mind it is advisable to get your pet doe from a reputable breeder. NFRS holds a breeders' list. This list is not actively vetted and is open to all members to add their names. It is up to you to do your research in this field. You must make enquiries of the breeders and about the breeders, ask as many questions as you can, especially about the health of the lineage. I would be suspicious of a breeder that tells you that they have had no health problems whatsoever with a line, the chances of a mammary tumour or of respiratory illness in a rat are just too high for someone who keeps many rats to not have experienced a sick rat!

The next thing you can do to avoid a lumpy doe is to ensure you feed her as healthy a diet as possible. The Shunamite diet is well known and actively followed by many pet rat owners. Details of it can be found within 'The Scuttling Gourmet' an excellent book written by Alison Campbell and available from NFRS shop. Whatever you feed your rats it is always best to feed them a balanced healthy diet. A rat raised on squirty cream and crisps will be extremely susceptible to the development of mammary tumours, indeed any fat doe has a much higher chance of developing them. Does from my lines often tend to get fat in their later years, make sure you ask breeders of health changes in later life too!

Lastly it may be an idea to adopt an ex-breeding doe from a breeder, I often try and place my ex-breeding does into pet homes. These does are often only 8 - 10 months old and hence possibly will give their new owners a good couple of years of fun. I know that other breeders will do this too and this is another option that new owners didn't even know they had available to them.

The fun thing about owning does is that you can quite easily buy a huge big cage, of which there are a huge range available these days, and fill it with many does of many different colours. All these does will be different and the real fun bit is learning each ones individual personality and learning how best to become friends with her. The addictive thing about them is that it is relatively easy to introduce new babies into the fold when an elderly doe passes on, so that huge cage always seems to be full and plans of who to get the next kitten from are already forming in your head when you realise that a much loved doe is reaching the age of two soon. The discovery of a new ratty colour that you haven't seen before at your next visit to a show then gets you thinking about whether you could possibly fit another cage in your lounge and then what colour doe you just simply have to have to go with it.

Let's face it, rats are addictive! Rat-addiction (Rattiction) should be in the Medical Dictionary as a recognised complaint. I have suffered from it for over 20 years and can not envisage that I will ever recover. Female rats especially have wormed their way into my soul with their funny antics, their pretty faces, their waggly ears, their exquisite bone structure, soft short coats, stroppy food fights and acrobatic antics. Does, don'tcha just love em!